When August (or September) brings on the steamy nights (or the cooling ones) and the tomato plants are (still) hot and heavy with ripe fruit, it's time for gazpacho. Traditionally, way back in the middle ages where the roots of gazpacho lay, this soup-salad of sorts did not have tomatoes in it, made instead with almonds, bread, olive oil, garlic, vinegar and salt. There is a similar version of gazpacho still made today called "white gazpacho" or "ajo blanco." My more modern version takes advantage of the juicy ripe tomatoes popping up around me. If you have some stale bread on-hand, as I did last night, you'll be making a traditional gazpacho, but if the tomatoes are peaking, don't want a week for the bread to go stale. Bread gives the soup some heft, but it isn't necessary.
Last night's gazpacho was as written below, but feel free to experiment. This is one of those recipes that does not need to be followed to a tee. For example, you can substitute parsley for cilantro and yellow onion for red. You can omit the bread or substitute bread crumbs (1 cup) and use water or tomato juice instead of stock. Many recipes for gazpacho have bell peppers and celery, but I prefer to rely on cucumber (mostly because I have so many in my garden) and cilantro (because I love it) for that hint of freshness.
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 5-7), chopped
3 cups stale bread, torn into bite-size pieces
3-4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/4 cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 red onion, finely chopped, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish if desired
1 cucumber, peeled, chopped, reserving 8 slices for garnish if desired
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped, plus a few whole sprigs for garnish if desired
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a large non-reactive bowl, combine all ingredients. For the broth, begin with 3 cups. Working in batches, purée in blender. If consistency is too thick, add more broth. Once entirely blended, pour back into bowl and cover. Chill at least 2 hours in the refrigerator, preferably overnight for flavors to come together. Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary and stirring well, or pulsing in blender before serving. Garnish with cucumber slices, a sprig of cilantro, and/or chopped red onion.